In this week’s Torah portion our forefather Abraham undergoes the greatest challenge of his life: He is called upon to surrender his son to the Almighty. Abraham is under the impression that he will actually have to offer his son as a sacrifice, and the Almighty waits to see how he will respond. The experience is metaphorically depicted in an ancient Midrash.
The Midrash tells us that as Abraham walked with his son, Satan took on the form of a churning sea and placed himself right in Abraham’s path. Undeterred, Abraham walked right into the water. As he walked the water became deeper: first, he was submerged to his waist, then to his chest, then to his neck. Finally, Abraham could go no farther and cried out to the Almighty. And the water vanished.
This Midrashic story about Abraham vividly depicts the inner struggles that each of us is destined to endure while we strive for achievement in life. We encounter moments of despondency, moments when we’re depressed, moments when we believe we can go no further. But in truth, oftentimes all the obstacles are only a mirage, and if we persevere undaunted and ask God for assistance, we find the inner fortitude to forge ahead to our goal.
Right now, our country as a whole is confronted with an enormous challenge. In this post-election season we find ourselves divided, troubled, broken into isolated groups who look upon one another with suspicion and mistrust.
Assuredly, we must look to find the way to achieve unity and harmony. But the obstacles are great, and it is clear that we face a long and difficult road. This is where we can learn from Abraham about never giving up. We can begin by taking the first steps, by reaching out to others who may think and act differently from ourselves. By steeling ourselves to go out of our comfort zone to offer assistance and empathy to those who require help. By noticing those around us who are needy, yet whose needs we have always managed to ignore.
And when it looks like we’re hardly making a dent, when suspicion and animosity still seem to surround us on all sides — by refusing to ever slacken our efforts.
Recently, the Associated Press reported on an elderly man who lost his wedding band. He looked and looked, but it never turned up. His wife reassured him, telling him she was certain he’d find it. Then she passed away.
That spring, the carrots in his garden came up, and he pulled them from the ground one by one. And on one of them he noticed something shiny, tightly encircling the carrot.
His wedding band.
Never give up.
Rabbi Levi Langer is rosh kollel and dean of Torah studies at the Kollel Jewish Learning Center. This article is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.